It Depends on Faith

When you are at your darkest moment and you open your eyes in the morning and all you see is crushing despair, how strong is your faith?

Friends who are saddled with the unrelenting sadness of failed marriages, family members involved in criminal activity, terminal diagnoses, and watching a mother waste away in hospice are currently experiencing this right now. Maybe you are, too.

In the bleakest of our circumstances, Paul advises us to look to God’s promises to counter-balance the hopelessness that we feel. God’s promises are real. God’s promises are steadfast. God’s promises are eternal.

The promise made to Abraham in the form of a covenant of God’s abiding presence with his descendants is one of the most comforting promises we can rely on in times of trouble. God promises to always be WITH us, having claimed us for himself. This promise is not based on any law, but based solely on God’s faithfulness to his people.

Romans 4 (New Revised Standard Version)

13 For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith. 14 If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. 15 For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation.

16 For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of all of us, 17 as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”)—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. 

The promise rests on grace. Hallelujah! It doesn’t rest on performance on our part, it doesn’t rest on the law, but solely on the grace of God. We understand grace to be the unmerited favor of our Lord. You can’t earn it, so you can’t lose it, thanks be to God. God’s grace is guaranteed.

18 Hoping against hope, he believed that he would become “the father of many nations,” according to what was said, “So numerous shall your descendants be.” 19 He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was already as good as dead (for he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. 

And so we must be like Abraham, and hope against hope. No matter how awful your circumstance is, grace can come in such a way that your head will spin. God often does the unexpected in answer to our fervent prayers and unwavering faith. Even old Abraham and geriatric Sarah conceived a child!

20 No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, 21 being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. 22 Therefore his faith “was reckoned to him as righteousness.” 23 Now the words, “it was reckoned to him,” were written not for his sake alone, 24 but for ours also. It will be reckoned to us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, 25 who was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification.

May we have the faith of Abraham as we encounter the terrible. May we have the righteousness of Sarah as we pray for the impossible. And may we be raised in Christ as the final proof of our hope that “with God, all things are possible.”

New Mercies I See by Michelle Robertson

By Any Other Name

Do you know what your name means? Were you named for someone in the family? Parents take great care to give their children names they hope they will live up to and live into. Ask any son who is a “junior.” The association with names and meaning is strong. No one here would name a child “Poured Concrete.” No one here would name a pet “Ground Meat.” If we were shopping for clothing, we would be loathe to purchase a garment from “Lepers, Inc.” Indeed, we associate things with the names they are given. Names have meaning, and we pay attention to that.

In our lectionary reading this morning, we see two people who receive name changes from the Lord himself. The changes are slight variations of the names they already have, but they signal to the community that a divine intervention has occurred and life will never be the same:

Genesis 17 (New Revised Standard Version)

 When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram, and said to him, “I am God Almighty;[a] walk before me, and be blameless. And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will make you exceedingly numerous.” Then Abram fell on his face; and God said to him, “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you.

So Abram becomes Abraham and is now to be known as the father of all nations. He has become the patriarch of EVERYTHING that follows. As the song goes, father Abraham had many sons; I am one of them, and so are you. This stunning intrusion of God into human history turned the world on its ear. In this singular moment, God’s covenant with his people is established, one that will be continued all the way to the cross and beyond.

15 God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. 16 I will bless her, and moreover I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall give rise to nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.”

Barren Sarai’s life also takes a drastic turn. Don’t miss the fact that she becomes the “Mother of All Nations,” and her offspring live out the covenant even to this day.

If you were to be given a new name from God, what would you choose?

“Redeemed?”

”Rescued?”

”Joy?”

“Beloved?”

”Harmony?”

”Forgiven?”

Every day, we have a chance to “change our name” in the eyes of God. Choose well today. God’s offer of covenant is yours for the asking.

Feathered Hope by Kathy Schumacher

Covenant

I love the word covenant. For me, it may be one of the most significant words in the Bible, just after salvation, peace, and forgiveness. Covenant describes the reason all those other words exist. In a Biblical sense, a covenant is a solemn agreement or contract between God and his people that is flesh-and-blood binding.

In the Old Testament, covenants were made with Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David. These covenants were promises God made to never destroy the earth again, to provide land and descendants, to bless those who followed the law, (and punish those who didn’t) and that the house of David would produce the kings of Israel. Not to mention THE King.

In the New Testament, we have the end-all-be-all covenant of Jesus, known as the New Covenant. The New Covenant came as a completion of all the old laws, ways, covenants and promises. In the New Covenant, God promises to offer forgiveness of sins through the shed blood of his son on the cross. All who believe will receive eternal life.

In every case, God is the agent of the covenant-making. He initiates, he declares, he invites, and he promises. Every type of covenant relies on both parties doing their part and agreeing to the terms as presented.

One of my favorite modern uses of the word covenant is in the wedding ceremony. It appears in several places, and is in the prayers when we refer to “this solemn act of covenant” and ask God to bless the union. At the end, we invite the bride and groom to “seal your covenant with a kiss.”

(As an aside: we stopped inviting the groom to kiss the bride when we finally realized that the old liturgy assumed the bride to be an object to be given away by her father at the beginning of the ceremony and kissed by the groom at the end. We now ask the family to “present this woman to be married,” and both bride and groom are invited to “seal the covenant with a kiss.”)

In a marriage, we have an equal partnership of covenant-makers. Each benefits from the mutually agreed upon terms from a position of parity. But not so with our covenant with God. We are not his equal. We cannot hope to match what he can give as part of his covenant agreement. It could not be more lopsided, and yet, there it is:

Hebrews 8 The Message (MSG)

A New Plan with Israel

6-13 But Jesus’ priestly work far surpasses what these other priests do, since he’s working from a far better plan. If the first plan—the old covenant—had worked out, a second wouldn’t have been needed. But we know the first was found wanting, because God said,

Heads up! The days are coming

    when I’ll set up a new plan

    for dealing with Israel and Judah.

I’ll throw out the old plan

    I set up with their ancestors

    when I led them by the hand out of Egypt.

They didn’t keep their part of the bargain,

    so I looked away and let it go.

This new plan I’m making with Israel

    isn’t going to be written on paper,

    isn’t going to be chiseled in stone;

This time I’m writing out the plan in them,

    carving it on the lining of their hearts.

I’ll be their God,

    they’ll be my people.

They won’t go to school to learn about me,

    or buy a book called God in Five Easy Lessons.

They’ll all get to know me firsthand,

    the little and the big, the small and the great.

They’ll get to know me by being kindly forgiven,

    with the slate of their sins forever wiped clean.

By coming up with a new plan, a new covenant between God and his people, God put the old plan on the shelf. And there it stays, gathering dust.

The New Covenant offers us the opportunity to be a part of the kingdom of God. God will write this new plan in our hearts. It is a plan that offers us his kind forgiveness, where repentance results in our sinful slates being wiped clean. God desires to be known firsthand. He will be our God and we will be his people. Did you catch that? The God who created the entire universe wants to be our God! He wants to be known in the little and the big, the small and the great. Can you even imagine?

The only thing we can do….the ONLY thing that God asks…is accept this gift of covenant. We can’t earn it, we can’t reciprocate in kind, and we certainly can’t mechanically adhere to meticulous laws to prove ourselves worthy. We just have to open up our hearts and receive the promises of God.

And that’s the best news of all. God has made a promise to us, and God always keeps his promises. How will you respond? What will you do with this gift? Can you keep up your side of this covenant?

God invites all to come to the table he has prepared before us. Will you accept?

God’s Creation, Offered Without Price. Photo by Patti Kohl Koehler